“Lizzie: The Legend of Lizzie Borden”

No amount of anger can render the kind of violence shown in the film “Lizzie: The Legend of Lizzie Borden” without labeling the perpetrator a psychopath. Twenty whacks in the face with a hatchet done twice and once stark naked is more than even any abused “me,tooer” can conjure. Sorry, screenwriter Bryce Kass has taken the Lizzie Borden story into the modern era with no awareness of nineteenth-century repressive mores.

The nudity is over the top while it does show maniacal planning. Basically, Lizzie’s intellectual prowess slides into mind numbing revenge for tampering with her freedom. Lizzie is not to leave the house unaccompanied, and her inheritance is strictly controlled. In similar Victorian times, Emily Dickinson, remember, had to seek permission from her father to write at night. Victorian women’s  issues, the class divide, and gender repression were all better seen in the 2017 film “ A Quiet Passion” with Cynthia Nixon playing poet Emily. Not that Chloë Sevigny does not do an admirable job, but the motivation is just not extreme enough~and I argue can never be if Lizzie is to be anything but insane.

The film’s pacing is flawed, too. Except for the violence, “Lizzie” is a  painfully slow film. Even the Shakespearean sonnet reading by gaslights and candles does not make up for days going by petting pigeons and picking pears.

Hateful looks make the thirty-two year old Lizzie ( Chloe Sevigny) look like a rebellious teen. The lesbian sex in the pigeon-house and it’s subsequent thrusting against the hay stacks is for a sensationalized motive~ never proven . Yet, the flashback approach and the August 4th, 1882 beginning shot, that has us looking at the back of Lizzie’s fragile neck while we have thoughts of her step-mother’s soon to be severed, is promising. The screenplay just doesn’t deliver.

The film is well cast with Jaime Sheridan in the role of horny, miserly dad. He tells Lizzie that her epileptic seizures set the family up to ridicule. Denis O’Hare is overtly unctuous as the oily uncle, John Morse; and Kristen Stewart as Irish maid and sexual consort to Lizzie and Father dearest is fawn-like in her victimhood.  Actress Fiona Shaw is a long-suffering, though hateful step-mom. I  like how  she delivers her understated line to her husband, “…I am astonished at the endless ways you find to humiliate yourself and this family.” Kim Dickens is a credible older sister, who happens to be away at a friend’s house when the blood is splattered.

Director Craig William MacNeil can’t do much with a script that edges toward slasher/repressed lesbian suspense noir.

We do see Lizzie as whip-smart and sharp-tongued. When a taunting young woman asks why Lizzie’s family keep their house so dark, Lizzie retorts with the query, “ Are you an Edison? You seem  fixated with illumination.” When Lizzie’s father catches the maid, whom he has forced to have sex with him now with Lizzie, he calls his daughter an abomination. Lizzie coolly responds with, “ At last, we are on equal footing.”

But if you are seeing “Lizzie” to better understand her or to fill in the blanks of her history, you are seeing the wrong historical drama. Missives of the threatening sort, all in the same hand, bombard the family. Mr. Borden is not well-liked. He punishes Lizzie by having her pet pigeons served for dinner. Yet, it deference to their wealthy family, the murder trial is a closed affair. One will have to watch the History Channel to get the facts on these  unsolved murders. The psycho-drama in “Lizzie” did not enlighten or work for me.

“Love and Friendship”

Love and friendship take  the backseat to conniving  antics and poised privilege in Director Wilt Stillman’s takeoff of Jane Austen’s novella ” Lady Susan”. See this film if you want to feel  superior to the “one-percenters” who can’t seem to foil my lady as she sets up her life like a chess board. Values and virtue be damned: this girl wants what she wants. For herself and for her daughter, this means men who are vastly rich and  rather simple. In other words, ” perfect”.

Kate Beckinsale is perfection, herself, in this British period piece. Amid Georgian splendor and carriage rides back and forth to various estates, she tells her American friend, played rather uncomfortably by Chloe Sevigny, that the Vernons ( she & her daughter) ” we don’t live, we visit”.  “We have no money, no husbands, but opportunities, yes.”

It is in wrestling these opportunities that the comedy of manners plays out. Beckinsale’s Susan is arch and acerbic. ” Be gone. I’ll have you whipped.” , she spits to a man who accosts her on a  cloistered walkway. When her American friend asks if Lady Susan knew him, she blithely states, ” I know him well. I would never speak to a stranger like that.”  And so it goes through cascading curls, stone archways, and brocade and French needle- worked upholstery.

Beckinsale  plays Lady Susan, a widow  with ” captivating  deceit”. She wishes to “humble the pride of the pompous DeCourcys” , and she does this through bewitching the young Reginald DeCourcy ( Xavier Samuel). Through many machinations, like only Austen can plot, Lady Susan ends up with  a  wealthy simpleton ( Tom Bennett’s  Sir James Martin) as a providing husband, another ‘s  woman’s husband as her live-in lover, and their love child looking legitimate in society’s eyes.  Her daughter Frederica  (Morfydd Clark) gets Reginald and remains under Lady Susan’s control since she can not abide her former passion’s ” untrusting disposition”. Men seem to “live to oblige” her, and other women call her stratagems the product of her diabolical genius.

The  musical score is gorgeously directed by Benjamin Esdraffo and written by Mark Suozzo with some Vivaldi, Handel and other classical pieces beautifully interwoven.

The scene with “the rattle” Sir Martin is one of the funniest. His amazement at the pronunciation of  the “Churchill ” Estate, his confusion over the small green balls (peas) , and his talk of the fourteen commandments is silly fun. When Bennett pontificates on Fenimore Cooper as the poet who also writes verse, and parlays the pun ” he is quite ‘versicle’ that way”, we collapse. When Lady Susan gives his buffoonishness the excuse of  being beset in ” the foaming waters of courtship” , it is hysterical.

Some of my favorite quotes are Lady Susan’s : ” A worthy lover should know one has reasons for everything one does.” ” Payment of wages are offensive to us both.” Lady Susan tells her friend that marriage to her  husband, Mr. Johnson ( Stephen Fry) was a huge mistake: ” Too old to be gullible, and too young to die.”

” Love and Friendship” is full of irritating  privilege, quotable asides, and cynical insight. If you are looking for romance, there is none here.